"I think COVID shocked our systems in a lot of ways," said Wolf, who noted how as consumers spent more time at home, they tended to seek out familiar comfort foods leading to a spike in sales in Mondelēz's core business of cookies and crackers.
But the tide is shifting towards discovery of new brands and products, she added.
"At the same time... There’s a huge push still in health and wellbeing, in immunity, and how we take care of ourselves not just as individuals but our communities. Going forward, consumers are going to want to explore more. We’ve been cooped up for a couple years and there’s a lot of variety and a lot more exploration we want to do."
'One of the huge opportunities that we continue to see is plant-based'
To better tap into emerging snack trends, Mondelēz plunged into the startup space in 2018 with the launch of SnackFutures, its innovation arm that developed new brands in-house (Dirt Kitchen Snacks, CaPao, Millie Gram, NoCoé, and Ruckus and Co) and invested in others (Uplift Food, Torr, and Hu).
"That whole process of creating these brands and building the ecosystem is a totally new group of vendors and partners that the big Mondelēz doesn’t have. It’s different routes to market and different styles of engagement with consumers, and different pathways from our core categories of cookies and crackers," Wolf told FoodNavigator-USA at the Natural Products Expo West Show in Anaheim, California, last month.
While its in-house brands have stayed small, distributed in very select markets, Wolf noted that as consumers spend less time out of the house, their pursuit of discovery in snacking will accelerate, especially for plant-based snacking options such as Dirt Kitchen Snacks.
"One of the huge opportunities that we continue to see is plant-based. We know that 91% of consumers are looking to have more vegetables in their diet," said Wolf.
Dirt Kitchen Snacks, which air dries 'rescued' vegetables that aren't aesthetically pleasing enough for retail, is seeing strong consumer traction so far in 2022 and especially as sampling opens back up again, she claimed.
"We couldn’t sample like we wanted to and asking people to pay a premium for vegetable snacks that they cannot taste, and feel good about that purchase, is hard. A lot of time, vegetables are kind of funky, unless they’re dolled up in other ways and this was a way to make them snackably delicious. They’ve never tasted something like this," said Wolf.
Engaging with startups
Last year, the global snacking company stretched itself even further to engage with very early-stage (less than $500,000 in annual revenue) startups through its newest venture CoLab, a startup program for mission-driven brands designed to unleash their growth potential, said Wolf.
Now in its second year, reception has been strong for the 12-week program, which runs from April to June 2022 and connects early-stage founders with internal and external resources at Mondelēz to identify areas where they can grow each of their businesses.
"We had a very thorough program last year – some of it was a little overwhelming, so we scaled back and dialed in in certain areas. This year we asked, 'What is your purpose and your mission?'."
Mission statements ranged from social and environmental (e.g. Moonshot, Yolélé, Nunbelievable) to building a brand culture around inclusivity such as Popcorn for the People, which employs people with special needs.
"This year’s class we have ten companies that are incredibly diverse in their product form, their founder story, and their missions," said Wolf. "We hope to continue to scale this and be in more markets."